Understanding I A Criteria: Planning (Aspect 2) – The Design Brief
The brief is the formal starting point for the design of a new product. It is the set of instructions provided by the client which is the basis of the project. For most new products the design brief is an important document in clarifying what the product is expected to be and to do, so it is a statement of the design problem. Consequently, the brief sets out the design goal, the major constraints within which it must be achieved and some criteria by which a good design proposal will be satisfied. Assessment Statement 1.1.3. in Topic 1 of the Guide explains what this all means.
Many students are not explicit enough when explaining what is the goal of their project. Clearly, the design brief is formulated once research has taken place to establish the need or opportunity i.e. the design context (see the previous blog relating to Aspect One of Planning). The goal for a diploma student often has two aspects; one is the design of a new type of product or system, and another is what the particular outcome of their project will be. For example, a student may state that their brief is to design and make a domestic waste storage system. This seems to set out the goal of the brief quite concisely. However, it transpires later in the project that the intention is not to make a full size prototype of the storage system but a scale model. As the brief will be used at the evaluation stage of the project to see whether it has been satisfied it is important to explain exactly what is intended. I use the word “explain” rather than state because it becomes clear from the research and development stages of the project that the model will be evaluated in relation to the potential of the final design for commercial production on a large scale. It would have been better therefore if the brief was something along the lines of to design a new waste storage system for domestic use and to produce a scale model of the product/system suitable for evaluation in relation to its potential for commercial production. The constraints would then explain the parameters set by this goal and how far the designer intends to go down the road of innovation e.g. to the stage of initial prototype. This would then assist with the evaluation and testing of the final outcome as assessment will be made within the constraints and minimize assumptions. By “assumptions” I mean that often students evaluate their design based on the scale model produced in a much broader manner than is possible from the nature of the model. As we know from Assessment Statement 1.3. 28. The type of model is important in relation to what it does show and what it does not show about the potential of the design proposed.
The difference between constraints and criteria may be less obvious to students. Constraints usually refer to the parameters within which the designer must operate e.g. safety requirements such as existing legislation while criteria usually refers to what the product must/should do e.g. be made from recyclable materials. In reality it is not that important if the distinction between constraints and criteria is rather blurred as long as students identify the major issues. As far as moderating project work is concerned a moderator will not assess work as “partial” just because they consider that the student has mixed up constraints with criteria even though they have identified the appropriate ones in total. Of course, the assessment for Aspect Two of the Planning criteria will be a holistic judgement of how successfully the goal, constraints and criteria have been established for the project. If the goal is inadequate as explained in the example earlier then the assessment will not be a “complete”. This might help teachers to understand why a moderating factor may have been applied to their sample of work presented for moderation.
Of course it may be that a student intends to design and manufacture a product as a one – off item possibly for their own use so they are the client. As long as the context of the problem has been well researched and “the need” is not too subjectively based then there should be enough evidence to achieve a good mark. In these circumstances, in order to try and broaden the scope of the project and avoid subjectivity, I would encourage the student to consider a possible wider market for the product so even though they have identified a problem specific to their needs it is probable that other students have similar needs. For example, it is common for students to identify a problem with storage in their home, usually in their own room. Although the initial constructive discontent arrives from their own personal circumstances and the arrangement of their room they can broaden their research to see if other students have similar, if not exactly the same type of problem. In designing a solution for their own environment they can then take into account how the design could be modified to suit a wider market. This may be in the form of a modular design that can be adapted by different users or a range of sizes etc. This would allow for more user research and objectivity in the final evaluation.